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Aircraft Carriers Have Never Faced So Many Potent Threats Before

The National Interest - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 22:00

Robert Farley


We know how to kill carriers.

Key Point: The impact of cyberattacks against carriers could vary widely; at a minimum, they could effectively blind the carrier, making it more difficult for the ship and its aircraft to carry out their mission.

As long as they serve usefully in that role, nations will seek means to neutralize them. The aircraft-carrier form has proven remarkably flexibly, serving in one way or another for nearly a hundred years. From the USS Forrestal on, the U.S. Navy supercarrier has existed in basically the same form since the 1950s, and is expected to continue operating into the latter half of the twenty-first century. At some point, the game will be up; carriers will no longer pack the offensive punch necessary to justify their vulnerability. It’s not obvious when that day will come, however; we may only find out after the destruction of one of the Navy’s prize possessions.

We know how to kill aircraft carriers—or at least we know how best to try to kill aircraft carriers. Submarine-launched torpedoes, cruise missiles fired from a variety of platforms and ballistic missiles can all give an aircraft carrier a very bad day. Of course, modern carriers have ways of defending themselves from all of these avenues of attack, and we don’t yet have any good evidence of the real balance between offensive and defensive systems.

But what of the future? How will we plan to kill carriers thirty years from now? Here are several of the problems that the next generation of aircraft-carrier architects will need to worry about.

Undersea Unmanned Vehicles

Submarines have long posed the deadliest threat to aircraft carriers. In World War II, every major carrier fleet suffered losses to submarines; in the Cold War, the U.S. Navy viewed Soviet subs as a critical problem. Against modern antisubmarine warfare capabilities, the biggest difficulties faced by a submarine involve finding a carrier, then getting into firing position (with either missiles or torpedoes) before the carrier’s aircraft and escorts can detect and kill the sub. If the boat’s commander isn’t suicidal, finding a potential avenue for escape is also an issue.

Unmanned submarines solve several of these problems. They can wait indefinitely along the likely avenues of approach, only moving to attack after they detect the carrier. And robot submarines don’t worry too much about how their families will manage once they’re gone. Armed with only a few weapons, undersea unmanned vehicles, operating autonomously under preset conditions, could give future aircraft carriers a very serious headache.


Aircraft carriers already consist of a terrifyingly complex system of systems, from the ship itself to the air group to the escort task force. The Ford-class CVs will expand this even farther, operating as part of a system of weapons and sensors that can span across hundreds, even thousands, of miles. The digital linkages of this network will be well protected, but hardly impermeable; it is likely that any foe will take steps to attempt to disrupt and compromise the computer systems that allow the Fords to have the greatest effect.

The impact of cyberattacks against carriers could vary widely; at a minimum, they could effectively blind the carrier, making it more difficult for the ship and its aircraft to carry out their mission. It could also reveal the carrier’s location, making the ship vulnerable to a variety of attacks, including missiles and submarines. At the extreme, a cyberattack could disable key systems, making it impossible for the ship to defend itself.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

In Peter Singer and August Cole’s Ghost Fleet, American UAVs destroy two carriers (the Russian Kuznetsov and the Chinese Shandong) at the end of a carrier battle in the North Pacific. In some sense, of course, drones represent nothing new; on the one hand, cruise missiles are little more than suicidal drones, and on the other hand, planes have been sinking aircraft carriers since the 1940s. But modern, manned aircraft seeking to hit an aircraft carrier face near insurmountable obstacles; modern air defenses make a conventional approach suicidal. Cruise missiles help extend the range, but face the same problem in penetrating air defenses.

Autonomous UAVs, capable of using both stand-off and close-range weapons, have the flexibility to overwhelm air-defense networks, especially when they don’t need to worry about the survival of their pilots. They can dispatch weapons at various ranges, then close with the target and use themselves to inflict fatal damage on the carrier. There’s nothing in the world more dangerous than a robot with nothing left to lose. . . .

Hypersonic Weapons

China, Russia and the United States have all devoted extensive attention to hypersonics, which pose a threat in many ways similar to that of ballistic missiles. Unlike ballistic missiles, however, hypersonics can approach a target from a trajectory that makes them extremely difficult to target with defensive weaponry. They combine the most lethal aspects of both ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, and with inertia alone can cause enough damage to a carrier to kill a mission, if not the entire ship. And hypersonics may become more politically palatable than ballistic missiles, largely because of the association of the latter with the delivery of nuclear warheads.

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Orbital Bombardment

Aircraft carriers are inherently unstealthy; they cannot be made invisible to sensors in the same way that a plane, submarine, or even surface ship can be rendered effectively invisible. However, aircraft carriers have always derived a certain degree of their usefulness from their mobility. The disadvantage of a static airbase is that the enemy always knows where it is; the tactical problem becomes a simple question of offensive versus defensive weapons. Aircraft carriers can use their mobility to take advantage of the difference between seers (surveillance systems) and shooters (stand-off weapon systems).

Orbital bombardment systems (nicknamed “Rods from God”) can solve that problem. Satellites equipped with tungsten rods, or really any other kind of kinetic weapon, can simultaneously identify aircraft carriers and attack them, without messy problems associated with networked communications. The Rods from God, using kinetic energy alone, could deliver a tremendous blow to a surface target, either sinking a carrier or rendering it useless.

Can the Carrier Endure?

Aircraft carriers are instruments of geopolitical influence. As long as they serve usefully in that role, nations will seek means to neutralize them. The aircraft-carrier form has proven remarkably flexibly, serving in one way or another for nearly a hundred years. From the USS Forrestal on, the U.S. Navy supercarrier has existed in basically the same form since the 1950s, and is expected to continue operating into the latter half of the twenty-first century. At some point, the game will be up; carriers will no longer pack the offensive punch necessary to justify their vulnerability. It’s not obvious when that day will come, however; we may only find out after the destruction of one of the Navy’s prize possessions.

Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to TNI, is author of The Battleship Book. This article first appeared earlier this year. This article first appeared last year.

Image: Reuters.

China Hates India's Fast and Sneaky Brahmos Missiles

The National Interest - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 21:00

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Asia

No way to counter it?

Key point: China has no good way to defend itself against India's missiles. However, both countries are nuclear powers and so will deter each other.

While many of us remain mesmerized by the unfolding shambles in the Middle East, the world’s two most populous countries have gotten into a tiff over missiles. And I’m not referring to the ballistic kind for once.

“India deploying supersonic missiles on the border has exceeded its own needs for self-defense and poses a serious threat to China’s Tibet and Yunnan provinces,” complained the People’s Liberation Army Daily. “The deployment of BrahMos missile is bound to increase the competition and antagonism in the China–India relations and will have a negative impact on the stability of the region.”

“Our threat perceptions and security concerns are our own, and how we address these by deploying assets on our territory should be no one else's concern,” an Indian military source sniffed in response.

We’ll first look at the BrahMos’s capabilities and why they are considered a big deal, then plunge into why their deployment and export by is perceived as such a threat by China.

Indeed, the BrahMos cruise missile is stealthy, fast and extremely difficult to shoot down. It also has become a point of contention in a complicated web of overlapping alliances between India, China, Russia and potentially Vietnam.

Supersonic Carrier Killers

BrahMos began in the 1990s as a joint project between Russia and India to develop an Indian version of the P-800 Oniks cruise missile. The missile’s name is a portmanteau of the rivers Brahmaputra and Moskva in India and Russia, respectively.

Cruise missiles are designed to be fired at long ranges from their targets so as not to expose the launching platform to enemy retaliation. The quintessential cruise missile is the Tomahawk, developed in the United States. Fired by ships and aircraft, the 2,900-pound missile can cruise up to one thousand miles (depending on the model) at a speed of five hundred miles per hour—roughly the speed of a typical airliner—before slamming into its target.

During the Cold War, Russia developed a different style of cruise missile designed to take out American aircraft carriers. These flew over the speed of sound to better evade the carrier’s defenses—which include air-to-air missiles fired by fighters, surface-to-air missiles and Gatling-cannon Close-in weapon systems, or CIWS. They were also larger to increase the likelihood of achieving a kill in one hit.

Ramjets were used to maintain high speeds over long distances. A ramjet uses incoming air at high speeds to achieve compression instead of using a compressor, saving on fuel. However, a ramjet needs a boost from another source to help it achieve that airflow in the first place. In the case of the BrahMos, a rocket provides the initial acceleration before the ramjet takes over.

The BrahMos is actually slightly faster at Mach 2.8 than the P-800. It also weighs twice as much as a Tomahawk, at six thousand pounds.

The combination of twice the weight and four times greater speed as a Tomahawk result in vastly more kinetic energy when striking the target. Despite having a smaller warhead, the effects on impact are devastating.

Even more importantly, the BrahMos’s ability to maintain supersonic speeds while skimming at low altitude makes it very difficult to detect and intercept. To cap it off, the BrahMos performs an evasive “S-maneuver” shortly before impact, making it difficult to shoot down at close range.

A modern ship targeted by the BrahMos could respond with layered defenses to shoot down the missiles: ripple-fired medium- and short-range antiaircraft missiles and close-range CIWS. But an effective attack would involve firing multiple missiles in order to overwhelm these defensive countermeasures.

If the attack is launched within 120 kilometers of the target, it can skim at very low altitude the entire way to the target. While missiles can be detected earlier if benefiting from AWACs aircraft, a ship would likely detect a sea-skimming missile at range of only thirty kilometers, affording the vessel only a thirty second time window to respond. One intriguing analysis argues that a U.S. Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, with its layered air defenses, could not handle more twelve BrahMos missiles at once and that an entire carrier battle group would be saturated by more than sixty-four.

Of course, though India has some unpleasant memories of an encounter with a U.S. carrier group in the past, they probably have a different foe in mind.

In any case, the BrahMos has a major limitation…

The Missile Technology Control Regime

The BrahMos has a relatively short range—only 190 miles (290 kilometers)—under half the range of the Russian Oniks missile. This means that BrahMos launch platforms need to be relatively close to their targets—potentially within ranges they may be detected and fired back at.

This was purposefully done in order to conform to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a partnership of thirty-five countries which restricts the export of cruises missiles with ranges over three hundred kilometers. Russia is a member of the partnership—and just this June 28, India acceded into membership. And here we get into some interesting geopolitical strategy.

China is not a member of the regime, but would dearly appreciate the chance to deal in the market. India, on the other hand, would like to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group which regulates which nuclear technologies are permitted for trade. But China blocked its accession in June this year.

By adhering to the MTCR, India gained access to it—and now hopes to use that access as leverage versus China. Notionally, they could arrange a quid pro quo trading Indian NSG membership for Chinese admission to the MTCR. Whether it will work out that way remains to be seen.

Multiple Targets for Multiple Launchers

The BrahMos isn’t just an antishipping weapon—it also can hit ground-based targets, and is ideal for precision attacks against fixed installations such as radars, command centers, airbases and enemy missile batteries. It can also potentially carry a 660-pound nuclear warhead, though that doesn’t appear to be its primary intended use.

There are quite a few variants of the BrahMos missile designed to be used by the different platforms of the Indian military against either land or naval targets.

The Indian Navy’s BrahMos missiles mostly use eight-cell Vertical Launch System launchers. Six of its frigates and two destroyers have a single BrahMos launcher, while three of its destroyers have twin launchers. More BrahMos equipped ships are under construction.

The Navy has also successfully tested in 2013 a submarine-launched version which is expected to enter service in future vessels. Submarine-launched BrahMoses could potentially be launched fairly close to the target without being detected.

India has also developed the BrahMos-A, designed to be launched from its Su-30MKI strike fighters. Finding a ways to mount such a heavy missile on a fighter plane has taken years of work—in the end, the Su-30s had to be specially modified for the task. The first test flight was carried out in June this year. India has already requisitioned two hundred BrahMos-As, and plans to convert forty Su-30MKIs to carry them. This offers yet another flexible means to deliver the missiles close enough to their intended targets.

Finally, there are ground-launched Mobile Autonomous Launcher systems mounted on twelve-wheeler trucks. These are organized in regiments of five launchers with over 100 missiles. India is deploying a fourth missile regiment to Arunachal Pradesh, reportedly at cost of over 4,300 crore (over $640 million dollars.)

These are what have spooked the Chinese military, particularly since the new Block III missiles are designed to steep dive at seventy-degree angles to hit targets on the rear slopes of mountains. This has obvious application against the heavily militarized Himalayan border with China.

that India is pressing ahead with the development of even deadlier BrahMos variants. To begin with, some reports imply India tested in 2012 a version with a new satellite guidance system and a range of five hundred kilometers. Some argue that even the regular BrahMos may be capable of going further than its claimed 290-kilometer range.

India will also soon introduce the next-generation BrahMos-NG, which is smaller (only three thousand pounds,) faster (Mach 3.5,) and stealthier (smaller Radar-Cross Section.) It should be deployable from land, sea and air systems, including multiple missiles carried on fourth-generation fighters.

Additionally, India will soon be testing a scramjet-powered hypersonic BrahMos II missile capable of zipping along at Mach 7. Needless to say, these would be even harder to detect and shoot down and afford defending ships just seconds to react. The U.S. military has only just begun development a hypersonic missile of its own.

Russia, for its part, has appreciated the BrahMos’s commercial success, but seems to have only limited intention of fielding it: it may potentially deploy the system to Gorshkov-class frigates. It has more capable Zircon missiles (believed to be the model for the BrahMos II) in development and longer-range Oniks missiles already in service.

Showdown Over the Himalayas—and the South China Sea?

The BrahMos is a new game piece in India’s tense relationship with China. Chinese troops invaded India’s Himalayan border in a 1962 war that is still bitterly remembered in India. In the last decade, the Chinese border garrisons began to rapidly increase in size, leading to similar escalation on the Indian side. China’s close relationship with India’s historical enemy, Pakistan, and its development of military base in Gwadhar, Pakistan—seen as an attempt to encircle India—are another source of tension.

In the fall of 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited India in order to improve relations. However, a group of Chinese border troops appeared to have disregarded the civilian leadership and launched an embarrassing (though fortunately nonviolent) standoff that cast a shadow on any progress made.

The BrahMos cannot reach very far into Chinese. Although China is upset about the BrahMos missile’s presence on its border, it probably should be more worried that India is announcing it is close to a deal for selling the weapon to Vietnam.

Suffice to say, relations between China and Vietnam have a very long and complicated history, including a war in 1979. They recently have chilled over Chinese claims to the South China Sea. A particularly low point came with a Chinese oil expedition in 2014 that began drilling in Vietnamese-claimed waters, causing violent protests and a naval confrontation.

The Vietnamese Navy isn’t going to match China’s rapidly expanding flotilla any time soon. But small Vietnamese ships with BrahMos missiles could pose a major threat to China’s larger military vessel. Thus, if Vietnam does acquire the weapon, this would affect the balance of power in the Pacific.

Therefore, India may attempt to cultivate an alliance with Vietnam in order to counterbalance China.

Other countries interested in the BrahMos include Malaysia, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, South Africa and Indonesia.

Reading the Cruise Missile Tea Leaves

The politics of the BrahMos system also highlights the limited potential of a Chinese-Russian alliance. Russia historically has strong ties with both India and Vietnam. It’s relationship with China has been more complicated (notice how that word keeps showing up?) After an energy agreement in 2014, there has been much speculation of a Chinese–Russian alliance based on shared authoritarian ideology and a desire to counterbalance the United States. However, the sale of the BrahMos missile to India and Vietnam illustrates that while Russia wishes to remain on good terms with all three countries, it is not yet committed to an alliance with China the expense of its economic interests or its own concerns with its powerful neighbor.

What can China do in response to the threat posed by the BrahMos missile?

Simple! It can de-escalate the conflict with India. India is a democracy with all the messy internal political deliberations that implies—it’s not about to launch a massive surprise invasion of the Himalayas. A well-managed de-escalation wouldn’t have to carry a huge political cost. The average Chinese citizen likely doesn’t have strong feelings on the precise boundaries of the McMahon line.

Disputes over lightly populated Himalayan mountains shouldn’t constitute a truly substantive conflict of interest between the two countries—but they have been allowed to flourish into full blown military competition. It is obvious the two Asian powers are wary of each other. But both would be better served by reciprocated détente, allowing billions spent fortifying the border to be redirected to the economic needs of the two countries.

Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. This article first appeared in 2016.

Image: Reuters

Iran May Be Eyeing the United States’ Soft Underbelly

Foreign Policy - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 20:59
When Iran takes revenge for the killing of Qassem Suleimani, history suggests it could happen in Latin America.

COVID-19: countries, businesses must safeguard human rights as virus spreads: Bachelet 

UN News Centre - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 20:47
As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to spread globally, the UN’s top human rights official appealed on Friday to put rights “front and centre” when implementing preventative measures. 

International Women’s Day: Gender equality benefits everyone

UN News Centre - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 20:43
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China's Military Parade Shows What The U.S. Military Is Facing In Asia

The National Interest - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 20:00

Bradley Bowman, Andrew Gabel

Security, Asia

These systems enable Beijing to target ships and bases in the region, potentially creating no-go zones for the U.S. military and its partners.

Key point: The U.S. military has struggled to receive the timely, sufficient, and predictable funding necessary to support current operations, maintain readiness, and modernize the force. 

This week, the People’s Republic of China celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding by holding a massive military parade. The parade featured a number of formidable weapons systems that demonstrate the growing capability of the Chinese military, the erosion of U.S. military superiority, and the need for continued action by Washington and its partners.

As expected, the parade featured the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (or “carrier killer”) as well as the DF-26 missile. The latter is a ground mobile intermediate-range ballistic missile, which extends Beijing’s near-precision strike capability as far as Guam. These systems enable Beijing to target ships and bases in the region, potentially creating no-go zones for the U.S. military and its partners. If successful in this effort, Beijing may conclude it could successfully undertake military aggression, for example against Taiwan.

This week’s parade also included the debut of the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It is a ground-mobile ICBM with a maximum range of 9,300 miles, capable of carrying multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles. That range provides Beijing the means to target the mainland United States. China has also been developing maneuverable warheads, decoys, chaff, and jamming techniques that could make the DF-41 more difficult to intercept.

Beijing also exhibited the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile, which is designed to be launched from one of China’s four operational Jin-class ballistic missile submarines. The JL-2 has a range nearly three times greater than that of its predecessor, the JL-1.

The Chinese also displayed the DF-17, a ballistic missile booster and hypersonic glide vehicle designed to evade U.S. missile defenses. As the 2019 U.S. Missile Defense Review notes, China is “developing advanced cruise missiles and hypersonic missile capabilities that can travel at exceptional speeds with unpredictable flight paths that challenge existing defensive systems.” To intercept such a system, the U.S. must first be able to track it – underscoring the U.S. need for a space-based hypersonic and ballistic missile tracking sensor. Such a sensor would take advantage of the large area viewable from space and enable the U.S. to track and target advanced threats.

In addition, the parade included two new unmanned aerial vehicles and an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV). The GJ-11 Sharp Sword drone boasts stealth characteristics, and the WZ-8 is believed to be a rocket-powered, high-altitude reconnaissance vehicle. Also on display was the HSU-001, a large UUV featuring dual screws to enhance cruising speeds.

The U.S. military has struggled to receive the timely, sufficient, and predictable funding necessary to support current operations, maintain readiness, and modernize the force.  Meanwhile, Beijing has studied how America fights and has modernized its military accordingly. As a result, in some areas, U.S. military superiority has eroded or vanished. The DF-41 and DF-17, as well as other capabilities displayed this week by Beijing, underscore once again the need for a fully modernized U.S. nuclear triad, increased U.S. firepower in the Indo-Pacific, as well as better homeland missile defense.

Thanks to the well-formulated 2017 National Security Strategy and 2018 National Defense Strategy, belated clarity regarding the China threat, and robust and timely defense funding over the last two years, the Pentagon has initiated one of the most aggressive and important modernization efforts in decades.

But these steps will require timely, sufficient, and predictable funding from Congress. Absent that, the security of the American people will further erode, and U.S. troops may find themselves in a future conflict they will struggle to win against an increasingly capable Chinese military.

Bradley Bowman is senior director for the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Andrew Gabel is a research analyst. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

This article first appeared at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies last year.

Image: Reuters.

Almost Dead: 5 Times the World Nearly Blew Itself by Accident During the Cold War

The National Interest - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 19:18

James Clark

History, World


Key point: There were most close-calls than most people realize during the tense days of the Cold War. If things had gone differently, America and the Soviet Union would have wiped each other out.

In October 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The standoff occurred over the installation of nuclear missiles on Cuba, just 90 miles from the states. Though the stalemate ended after 13 grueling days, it was neither the first or last time the two world powers would very nearly come to blows.In the following years, until 1991 when the Cold War officially ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, America’s military and its Russian counterpart incited mass panic and narrowly avoided World War III no fewer than five times.

While some of these incidents sound like they’re plucked out of “Dr. Strangelove,” they’re real.

Between fried computer chips, playing the wrong tape, or misinterpreting a signal, it’s a wonder that we’re still here.

Here are five times that a dumb mistake nearly ended the world in giant ball of nuclear fire.

That time someone accidentally triggered the Emergency Broadcast System.

In 1971, though Cold War tensions had simmered, compared to their high point in the early ‘60s, the war in Vietnam was still in full swing, which explains the mass confusion that occurred on Feb. 20, 1971, when the Emergency Broadcast System was accidentally triggered at 9:33 a.m.

For the next 40 minutes, regularly scheduled programming was put on hold as listeners and broadcasters anxiously waited to hear an announcement from the White House. Fortunately, it was a mistake, there were no nuclear missiles hurtling toward the United States, or hostile military forces advancing on U.S. territories.

The error highlighted some problems with the Emergency Broadcast System’s safeguards and procedures. Roughly 20% of the outlets followed the correct procedures and cleared the air, the rest either started to, but stopped, or just ignored the alert completely. After operators at the National Emergency Warning Center in Colorado realized their mistake, they sent cancellation messages; however, they failed to use the correct codeword — “impish” — so that slowed things down a bit.

In 1979 the U.S. military thought its own training simulation was real and almost started World War III.

Referred to as “the training tape incident,” on Nov. 9, 1979, the computers at North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD, showed a massive nuclear strike aimed at U.S. command posts and nuclear forces. Launch control centers for America’s nuclear warheads received preliminary warning that the United States was under attack and fighter planes were prepared to intercept enemy bombers: World War III had begun.

Except it hadn’t. A realistic training tape was accidentally inserted into the computer that ran the nation’s early-warning programs. Fortunately the mistake was discovered within minutes after the raw data from satellites and early-warning radar systems showed no inbound missiles or enemy bombers.

Then, less than a year later, there was another computer glitch.

On June 3, 1980, U.S. military command received a warning that the Soviet Union had launched a nuclear strike. Same as before, the military scrambled interceptors, missile launch crews were put on red alert, and bombers were readied. There’s no way it could be another mistake, right? Wrong.

Fortunately, a threat assessment conference was immediately convened and again scoured the raw data, discovering no missiles had actually been launched. Turns out, a single computer chip on the monitor had failed and caused random numbers of attacking missiles to appear on the screen.

A Russian commander avoided the end of the world by not telling his superiors about a possible nuclear attack.

At midnight on Sept. 26, 1983, a Soviet missile detection bunker went into a panic when an alarm sounded, signaling that United States had launched five intercontinental ballistic missiles toward Russia.

In reality, the warning was a false alarm caused by the the Soviets mistaking a glint of sunlight off clouds near Montana as a missile launch. Though protocol demanded that the bunker report any signs of a missile launch to Soviet high command, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov knew the satellites were prone to errors and reasoned that an actual preemptive nuclear strike would involve hundreds of missiles, not five. Given the high tensions in both the Soviet Union and the states, Petrov’s decision to follow his gut and not report it may have averted a nuclear holocaust.

Speaking of tension, a few months later the Soviet Union thought a NATO training exercise was a preemptive strike.

Though it was not widely known at the time, in November 1983, the United States and the Soviet Union came closer to starting World War III than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis. During a NATO war game in Europe, dubbed Able Archer 83, the U.S. military moved 19,000 troops to the area, relocated its command elements, and raised its alert status — all steps that would typically be taken in a time of war.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was losing its mind on the other side of the iron curtain. According to documents declassified decades later, relations with the Soviet Union were “on a hair trigger.” The Soviet military was on high alert, its nuclear arsenal was readied, and units in East Germany and Poland had fighter jets prepared for takeoff, due to concerns that NATO’s war games were a ruse ahead of a preemptive strike. The country remained at that readiness level until the training exercise ended on Nov. 11 of that year.

This article by James Clark originally appeared at Task & Purpose. Follow Task & Purpose on Twitter.

(Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in 2016.)

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Russia’s Defiance Sets the Stage for Oil Price ‘Bloodbath’

Foreign Policy - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 19:12
Moscow rejects OPEC’s effort to avert a coronavirus-driven price collapse, shutting down an agreement to cut crude output.

Game Changer: What If The Navy Launched Stealth Bombers From Aircraft Carriers?

The National Interest - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 18:54

TNI Staff


It tried it before.

Key point: A modern incarnation of a manned carrier-based long-range penetrating strike aircraft might be a solution to the Navy’s range problem.

During the closing stages of the Cold War, the United States Navy was developing a new long-range stealth bomber that could strike at even the most heavily defended targets from the deck of an aircraft carrier. But the ill-fated program was cancelled; leaving a gap in naval aviation capability that has not been filled to this day.  

Called the McDonnell Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 Avenger II—a product of the Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) program—the new bomber would have replaced the long-serving Grumman A-6E Intruder. However, as the Soviet threat evaporated, then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney cancelled the A-12 program on January 7, 1991, due to massive cost and schedule overruns as well as severe technical problems. But while the stealthy A-12 had its problems, the bomber’s demise led the Navy to today’s problem: A carrier air wing that does not have the range or penetrating strike capability to defeat advanced anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities.   

While the Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter will finally bring X-band stealth technology onboard the carrier and the forthcoming MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aerial refueling tanker will help to extend the range of the existing air wing, those aircraft do not make up for the lack of a heavy hitting long-range bomber platform that can strike deep into the heart of enemy territory. Even with the F-35C and MQ-25, the Navy’s carrier air wings would not be able to strike at Chinese targets in the Western Pacific without putting the carrier at considerable risk. Beijing is able to threaten U.S. Navy carriers with anti-ship ballistic missiles such the DF-21D and the DF-26— the later of which has a range of roughly 2000 nautical miles—by forcing those vessels to operate further out at sea.

The Navy had envisioned the need for a carrier-based penetrating strike aircraft with extended ranges during the 1980s given rapidly advancing Soviet capabilities. Indeed, as former Center for a New American Security scholar Jerry Hendrix, a retired naval aviator, noted, the initial requirements for the A-12 called for an aircraft with a 1,700 nautical mile combat radius and an internal payload of 6,000lbs with a radar cross section comparable to the Northrop B-2 Spirit strategic bomber.

Had the A-12 program panned out, the Navy would still have a potent long-range carrier-based penetrating strike capability that would have been superior to anything currently envisioned. However, technical problems and requirements changes—all of which negatively impacted strike capability—whittled the A-12’s unrefueled combat radius down to 1,000 nautical miles and eventually down to 785 nautical miles. Eventually, as technical problems and program snafus mounted—largely due to “criminal” program management—Cheney was forced to cancel the entire program.

Though it was not immediately apparent at the time, with the cancellation of the A-12 program and the retirement of the A-6E, the U.S. Navy gave up its long-range strike capability in favor of an air wing that focused on sortie generation. While that was not a problem in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War, with Russia resurgent and the emergence of China as a great power challenger, it is a serious issue for the viability of the carrier fleet. The Navy’s carrier air wings would have greatly benefited from an A-12-like capability had the program survived.

Analysts have proposed solutions such as a long-range stealthy unmanned strike aircraft as a solution to the Navy’s long-range penetrating strike gap, however, there are problems with that solution. Current Pentagon policy prohibits autonomous weapons from making the decision to take a human life on its own volition, which means that human operators have to be in the loop even when the aircraft is deep inside enemy territory. However, adversaries such as Russia and China will attack the vulnerable data-links that control such an unmanned aircraft through electronic attacks, cyber-warfare or a combination of methods. Drones have been hacked before—by insurgents, no less—thus positive control cannot be guaranteed.

Human pilots, however, cannot be hacked and can make on-the-spot judgments to engage or change targets etc. without the need to home phone—so to speak. Thus, a modern incarnation of a manned carrier-based long-range penetrating strike aircraft might be a solution to the Navy’s range problem. Modern materials, sensor and propulsion technology—particularly advanced adaptive-cycle engines that are currently in development—would solve most of the technical challenges that stymied the A-12 program.

Given that advanced adaptive cycle engines which are currently in development promise to reduce fuel burn by more than 35 percent, a new carrier-based bomber should be able to meet a 1100 nautical mile combat radius requirement even given the size constraints of carrier aircraft. Thus, the Navy should consider the development of a next-generation carrier-based long-range penetrating strike aircraft. Like the original ATA, which was also slated to replace the Boeing F-15E, a modern incarnation of such a warplane could also replace the Strike Eagle while supplementing the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-35C on the carrier flight deck. It will not be cheap, but given that President Donald Trump has signaled his intent to invest heavily in the nation’s defense, it is an option that the Navy should consider.

(This first appeared several years ago.)

Image: Wikipedia.

La montée d'un contre-pouvoir dans la Pologne en crise

Le Monde Diplomatique - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 18:44
A la veille de la reprise des travaux du premier congrès du syndicat Solidarité, M. Stéfan Olszowski, membre du bureau politique du parti ouvrier unifié polonais (POUP), a suggéré la formation d'un « front national » regroupant le parti, l'Eglise et Solidarité. Le premier ministre lui-même, le général (...) / , - 1981/10

China Goes on Diplomatic Offensive Over Coronavirus Response

Foreign Policy - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 18:39
Beijing seeks to deflect criticism that its carelessness caused a global crisis.

America's F-22 Raptor Is Powerful, But Could It Beat The F-23 Stealth Fighter?

The National Interest - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 18:24

TNI Staff


The final operational version of the F-23 would have offered much better range than the Raptor.

Key point: The Air Force ended up with an excellent plane with the Raptor—but both the YF-22 and YF-23 were outstanding designs.

In 1991, Lockheed won the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) competition and went on to develop the stealthy world beating F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter.

While in many ways, Northrop’s losing YF-23 was a much better design, but the U.S. Air Force chose the Lockheed aircraft because it believed that company would better manage the development program—and because the service thought the Raptor would cost less.

At the time, Northrop was in the doghouse with the Pentagon and the U.S. Congress because of massive cost overruns on the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and several other projects. Meanwhile, partner McDonnell Douglas wasn’t faring much better. “I don't know how the Air Force decided which contractors would build the ATF, but I can only assume that there was some long-overdue consideration of Northrop's dismal track record of test fraud, contract suspension and fines,” Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) told the LA Times years ago.

But what would an operational F-23 have looked like? And what if General Electric’s revolutionary variable-cycle YF120 had carried the day?

Even in 1991, in terms of raw performance, the General Electric-powered YF-23 was acknowledged to have been the best performer even compared to its Pratt & Whitney YF119-powered twin. The YF-23 had much better supersonic cruise performance, stealth and was only slightly less maneuverable at extremely low airspeeds.

“Interestingly the YF-22 and YF-23 had exactly the same trimmed AoA of 60°. The YF-23 could do it without thrust vectoring. Those V-tails were very powerful especially when coupled to an unstable airframe,” said one source who is intimately familiar with both the YF-23 and the Raptor. “The YF-22 probably had an advantage at very, very low airspeeds but neither company had enough time to investigate dynamic low speed, high AOA maneuvering. This was a good example of how a competition needs to consider the PR value of flight test events. Lockheed understood this and did high AOA and shot missiles and pulled 9Gs. All single point, benign condition events but they left an impression.”

The source added that in some ways, it might have cost Northrop the Advanced Tactical Fighter competition—barring the other factors involved in the selection.

“ACC [Air Combat Command] pilots were enamored with dogfighting and Lockheed gave a good visual demonstration of high AOA—albeit a very limited and benign test,” the source said. “Northrop chose not to do high AOA during DemVal and that was a mistake. Both airplanes could do the same exact maneuver—trimmed, high AOA. As it was, the YF-22 ‘appeared better’ because they did something visually exciting and Northrop couldn't—or so it was inferred.”

But what would all of that have meant for an operational aircraft? In either case, the U.S. Air Force would have received an outstanding air superiority fighter that has no equal. But while the Lockheed Martin F-22 is bar none the best air superiority fighter the United States has ever produced, an operational F-23 might have offered an even greater performance margin over potential adversaries than the Raptor currently does.

The final operational version of the F-23 would have offered much better range than the Raptor—especially at supersonic speeds—especially if powered by the YF120. That would have come in handy over the Pacific. It would also have been stealthier and it would have been almost as maneuverable as the Raptor—or possibly more so at different speeds and altitudes.

Both the Raptor and a fully operational F-23 would have carried eight air-to-air missiles internally—that was the Air Force requirement. Moreover, the operational jets were essentially identically in terms of avionics—both competitors had proposed similar avionics suites. In fact, the Raptor ended up with the radar that was originally proposed for the YF-23.

Ultimately, the Air Force ended up with an excellent plane with the Raptor—but both the YF-22 and YF-23 were outstanding designs. Had Northrop won the competition, the F-23 might have been a better overall performer, but it would have likely been more expensive. With the F-23, the Air Force would have a greater margin of superiority over potential threats like the Chinese J-20 or the Russian PAK-FA.  But would that have been worth the price differential? Hard to say—but one can only imagine.

(This first appeared several years ago.)

Image: Flickr.

DR Congo: Agencies appeal for funding for refugee support and Ebola response

UN News Centre - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 18:14
Urgent resources are needed to support countries in southern Africa and the Great Lakes region which are hosting more than 900,000 refugees and asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and partners said in a $621 million appeal launched on Friday. 

Annexation Would Threaten U.S. Military Support for Israel

Foreign Policy - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 17:22
Netanyahu's planned land grab in the West Bank will undermine bipartisan support for U.S.-Israel defense ties—endangering the special relationship and Israelis’ security.

Nonalignment Nuances: America Is Laying the Groundwork for a Stronger Relationship With India

The National Interest - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 17:18

James Holmes

Security, Asia

Nonalignment remains a powerful strain in Indian foreign policy. Still, India and the United States have fashioned placeholders in case things take a drastic turn for the worse in South Asia—one that might prompt New Delhi to tilt toward Washington.

India and the United States are natural allies, according to Alice G. Wells, the acting U.S. secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs. Wells touted the U.S.-India relationship on the eve of President Donald Trump’s state visit to India, which took place last week. The alliance has been twenty years in the making, she said; it dates back to a speech by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who coined the phrase natural allies during a visit to Washington DC in 2000.

Now, just as two decades ago, there is ample reason to doubt the hype about an impending alliance. It’s always impending. If a union between America and India is natural, then nature is taking her time to cement the arrangement. That, however, may be sufficient. 

To make sense of this slow-moving process, let’s briefly uncage our inner political scientist. During the late Cold War, Steve Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, wrote about and the factors that unite and divide international fellowships. Now, Walt is an über-realist. Like all good international-relations realists, he dwells on power politics. The chief factor that brings together nations, he maintains, is mutual interests. Meeting mutual threats constitutes an especially powerful adhesive. Security, after all, is the top priority for any polity that hopes to endure. 

Next in importance come political, social, and cultural affinities. Similar languages, political traditions, customs, and mores tend to draw international partnerships together. Allies that see the political and strategic setting the same way are apt to agree on how to manage it. Like gravitates toward like.

Lastly, Walt espies purely material factors that could consolidate alliances. A wealthy ally could bankroll the endeavor, offering others cash or other incentives to join. A strong ally could strongarm reluctant but weaker partners into a pact, coercing them into doing its bidding. Walt vests little confidence in such arrangements, depicting them as brittle and transient. And for good reason. If you rent an ally, then the alliance endures only so long as you pay the rent. If you point a gun at your ally, then the ally remains faithful only as long as the gun remains locked, loaded, and on target. Managing alliances to which allies aren’t sincerely committed saps the leading power’s resources while diverting attention from more pressing matters.

Threats, sociopolitical affinities, matériel—in descending order of strength and importance—are what bind alliances together if a person subscribes to Walt’s paradigm. Surroundings full of menace spur like-minded societies to make common cause. That’s doubly true if a leading power is willing to bear most of the economic, manpower, and military burden. Attenuate any factor and loyalties begin to falter. Prospects for joint action dim as apathy takes hold.

Now, apply this model to the supposedly natural U.S.-India alliance. Threats first. Beyond question, dangers are gathering in the Indian Ocean region. In recent years, Communist China has mostly dropped its “smile diplomacy,” its effort to persuade other Asian countries that it is an inoffensive and trustworthy—if not beneficent—great power. It is domineering at times. Its Belt and Road Initiative has delivered lodgments for commercial and military endeavors in South Asia. After years of protesting that China would never erect foreign military bases, it summarily did so. Chinese forces squared off against the Indian Army across the Doklam Plateau. And on and on.

Forbearance, it seems, was a tactic Beijing deployed to defuse opposition to its rise to great power. It is not something intrinsic to Chinese diplomacy and strategy, let alone an indicator of China’s future conduct. Like all tactics, it can be amended or discarded once it outlives its usefulness. And yet. Do China’s moves in the Indian Ocean region, each modest in itself, add up to a threat imposing enough to unite India with America? It doesn’t seem so. If New Delhi interpreted things that way, then some sort of alliance—a mutual defense agreement codified by treaty—would have come together by now. But it hasn’t. Nor will it, in all likelihood, unless China makes itself an irrefutably overbearing power in India’s environs.

Next, sociopolitical affinities. Yes, India and the United States are the world’s biggest and its oldest democracies, they share a common language, and they’re scions of the erstwhile British Empire. These are building blocks for an alliance. But they are not enough in themselves. The two societies tote around heavy baggage from the Cold War. Rather than take sides in the East-West struggle, India assumed a nonaligned posture after winning its independence from Great Britain. Indeed, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s founding prime minister, was one of the prime movers who impelled much of the developing world to join a Nonaligned Movement.

Nonalignment remains a powerful strain in Indian foreign policy. While formally nonaligned, however, New Delhi tilted toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Indians were good democrats, to be sure, but they also practiced a form of democratic socialism that saw much to admire in the Soviet model. They also saw the United States as an unreliable partner with a propensity for, say, withholding spare parts, ammunition, and other military supplies during India’s hour of need—chiefly during wars with neighboring Pakistan. They resented the Nixon administration’s deployment of the USS Enterprise aircraft-carrier task force to the Bay of Bengal during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war, viewing the expedition as a hamfisted attempt to coerce India.

Such bad memories thin the political, social, and cultural glues that might otherwise cement an alliance. In the 1990s, moreover, Washington set itself against New Delhi’s nuclear-weapons efforts for the sake of nonproliferation. The Clinton administration’s policy made perfect sense, embodying the spirit of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It also worked against Indian national security interests as Indians construed them. Both India and Pakistan had undertaken serious bomb-making efforts by then. They conducted near-simultaneous nuclear tests in 1998, joining the circle of unofficial nuclear-weapon states. Complying with U.S. demands for disarmament would have meant surrendering the advantage to Islamabad in atomic diplomacy. That verged on unthinkable for New Delhi.

Clearly, then, the two countries suffer from a fraught past. Only after the turn of the century did Washington begin to mute its criticism. In 2008, the two governments struck a civil nuclear deal whereby the United States lifted a longstanding moratorium on nuclear-related trade with India while consenting to provide support for Indian ventures in civilian nuclear energy and satellite technology. It’s no surprise that talk of a natural U.S.-India alliance got its start as the two governments progressed toward a bargain. They had begun to put the past behind them.

Such gradualism is far from unprecedented. Loosely speaking, in fact, current circumstances resemble Anglo-American relations around 1900. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the United States and Great Britain haltingly set aside their differences, which dated back to the late unpleasantness known as the War of American Independence and the War of 1812. By 1823, the two countries were able to work together at sea. For instance, the Royal Navy and U.S. Navy patrolled the Caribbean Sea cooperatively to quash the slave trade. Rancor returned during the American Civil War, when London permitted shipbuilders to fit-out Confederate raiders, warships that went on to ravage Union commercial fleets. In the 1890s the Grover Cleveland administration demanded the right to mediate a dispute over borderlands between Venezuela and British Guiana.

Like the U.S.-India relationship, that is, the Anglo-American relationship underwent highs and lows—notwithstanding the two countries’ common heritage. As Walt might have predicted, it took a compelling threat—namely the rise of imperial Germany—to unite them temporarily. London struck up an arrangement with Washington whereby the Royal Navy mostly withdrew from the Western Hemisphere while the United States agreed to tend British interests there. That allowed Britain’s navy to compete against the German High Seas Fleet building in the North Sea, hard by the British Isles.

The United States eventually sided with the Allies in World War I, helping subdue the Central Powers by 1918. Even so, President Woodrow Wilson regarded the British ally as little better than the German foe. Britannia was a maritime tyrant in Wilson’s eyes, just as Germany was a terrestrial tyrant. In fact, Wilson threatened to run a naval arms race against America’s ally if British leaders balked at his scheme for postwar order on the high seas. Not until World War II and the early Cold War did the special relationship familiar to Americans and Britons really take root.

It seems dangers must be clear and present to unite standing alignments such as NATO or the U.S. -Japan alliance. Just as America was loath to abandon its Monroe Doctrine, its venerable policy of nonalignment, it may take a threat on the order of an Axis or a Soviet empire to induce India to put aside its own tradition of nonalignment. If New Delhi comes to see China as a menace of that amplitude, then it may rally with Washington with more alacrity than has been the case since Vajpayee broached the idea of a natural alliance. Until an overbearing threat takes form, India will continue with its leisurely approach—an approach that may or more may not culminate in a formal defense accord.

Rapprochements, then, take time and effort—even between societies that are relatively friendly. U.S. leaders have granted India “major defense partner” status, opening the way for tighter defense collaboration. Combined military and naval exercises continue on a regular basis. The Indian and U.S. armed forces now furnish each other with logistical support. India, the United States, Australia, and Japan confer about political and security affairs under an informal consortium known as the “Quad,” or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. In short, India and the United States have fashioned placeholders in case things take a drastic turn for the worse in South Asia. They are building habits and hardware for working in harmony.

In other words, the partners are putting the workings of an alliance in place. They are creating opportunities. Diplomats can take care of the parchment later should the two capitals see fit. An entente cordiale is enough for now.

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and the coauthor of Indian Naval Strategy in the 21st Century. The views voiced here are his alone.

Image: Reuters

What Afghanistan Can Learn from the Cautionary Tale of Colombia’s Terror Troubles

The National Interest - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 17:08

William Shriver, Michael Kugelman

Security, Middle East

Colombia’s disarmament and reintegration camps can be used as a model for future Taliban reintegration, as they have provided a controlled space for the government to monitor ex-fighters and aid them in the reintegration process.

On February 29, after the completion of a seven-day violence reduction period, U.S. and Taliban negotiators signed a troop withdrawal deal that was meant to usher in an intra-Afghan dialogue. The intra-Afghan dialogue is supposed to launch a peace process that results in a power-sharing deal that ends a U.S.-led war that has raged for nearly nineteen years.

There are many uncertainties and challenges associated with an intra-Afghan dialogue: Will the Afghan political class, riven by divides that have been further exacerbated by a contested presidential election result, be able to present a common front in negotiations with the Taliban? Will the Taliban actually agree to negotiate a power-sharing deal within a political system that it has long rejected and vowed to overthrow by force?

Another fundamental question, down the road, is whether the negotiating parties will be able to agree to a plan to reintegrate Taliban fighters back into society. To put it simply: If there is no incentive for the Taliban to stop fighting and reenter society, then there won’t be peace.

Here, history can be a useful guide. The negotiations that led to the end of a long-running insurgency in Colombia have often been cited as a useful analogue for Afghanistan. In 2017, Micheal Kugelman coauthored a commentary with Latin America analyst Jamie Shenk that laid out the broader similarities between the two conflicts—from insurgencies that enjoyed cross-border sanctuaries and were funded by the drug trade, to the heavy support of the United States for the governments fighting the insurgents.

However, the issue of reintegration is particularly instructive because its successes and failures in the Colombia case are highly salient for Afghanistan, as the country edges closer to launching a peace process.

The conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government ended in June 2016 with a peace deal. Bogota agreed to set up twenty-three “transitory rural settlement normalization zones” and eight “transitory normalization points.” These areas were used to disarm and reintegrate FARC fighters. The camps there provided the ex-fighters with proper housing and an opportunity to build healthier and nonviolent lives.

This arrangement, by some measures, attained a fair degree of success. According to a study published in 2019, only 8 percent of tracked guerrillas have gone unaccounted for under this reintegration arrangement. However, in recent months, Colombian president Iván Duque has been trying to back out of key provisions, as he ran his presidential campaign on vocally opposing the deal. In addition, some ex-guerrillas have become frustrated and disillusioned with the deal as funding and support from the government for the peace accords have slowed. The Colombian peace deal remains in place but it is in jeopardy of falling apart.

The Colombian government’s peace plan entailed having guerrillas put down their arms, end their war against the government, restore security, and reintegrate fighters back into society. The deal has some similarities to the proposed intra-Afghan dialogue, which seeks to end the armed conflict in Afghanistan, improve the security situation, and eventually reintegrate ex-Taliban fighters back into Afghan society.

There are, to be sure, key differences between the Afghanistan and Colombia cases. The FARC negotiations did not include a foreign superpower, nor did the war in Colombia include an invasion by a foreign superpower. Rather, these negotiations were directly between the FARC and the Colombian government. The Afghanistan negotiations, on the insistence of the Taliban and to the frustration of Kabul, have to this point involved only the United States and the Taliban.

At any rate, while there are key differences between the two cases, there are still crucial lessons that the American and Afghan governments should take away from the Colombia-FARC conflict regarding the reintegration of ex-militants.

Consider the aforementioned disarmament and reintegration zones, or camps, for ex-FARC fighters. These areas allowed the Colombian government to monitor ex-fighters and offer educational and training sessions. In addition, once fighters moved into these zones, the FARC agreed to provide the government with a list of all their members there, and arrest warrants were suspended for FARC members to allow for reintegration. This created a controlled environment for the fighters and provided the government with the ability to track ex-militants inside these zones.

As noted earlier, a Colombian think tank, the Bogota Ideas for Peace Foundation, found in 2019 that only 8 percent of ex-FARC fighters had gone unaccounted for—that is, these 8 percent had never been tracked by the government, their whereabouts were unknown, and they had presumably never entered the camps.  

This is an impressive accomplishment given the size—around seven thousand fighters at the time of the peace deal—and influence of the FARC. The disarmament and reintegration camps can be used as a model for future Taliban reintegration, as they have provided a controlled space for the government to monitor ex-fighters and aid them in the reintegration process. During a postwar rebuilding period, it is crucial to track ex-militants and ensure their reintegration back into society.

Another success story from these Colombia disarmament/reintegration camps was their ability to provide proper housing for ex-FARC militants. While fighting in the countryside of Colombia, militants typically slept in tents and had unpredictable lifestyles. However, the postwar zones provided them with roofs over their heads and the opportunity to live a predictable, healthier life. In addition to this, they allowed the fighters to have children and start families. While in the FARC, women were forced to have abortions and members were banned from raising children. The improved lifestyle in the disarmament/reintegration zones attracted many ex-fighters, which in turn allowed them to return to a normal life.

The implication here for Afghanistan is simple: If the life for ex-Taliban fighters offered by the government post-peace deal is worse than the one during the war, then militants are drastically less likely to join the reintegration process. However, if the government can offer an improved quality of life, then those fighters are more likely to join the reintegration effort. If the Afghan government is unable to offer a better life for Taliban fighters following a peace agreement, then what is going to attract fighters to join and follow through with the reintegration process? This is a key question that both the U.S. and Afghanistan must consider in the coming months.

While the Colombian peace process has had successes, there are also failures that are instructive for the Afghanistan case. In the past year, numerous ex-fighters have become disillusioned with the peace process and have claimed that the Colombian government is not following through on its commitments to reintegration. This includes a fear of lack of job opportunities and of the government not providing proper housing or medical facilities in the camps. Due to these concerns, many have left the camps to find a better life elsewhere. The United Nations calculated in 2017 that more than 55 percent of all FARC members had left the reintegration camps. While many will be likely left to return to their families or search for a job, it is feared that some rejoined dissident factions of the FARC or other armed groups as there isn’t enough motivation to stay in the camps and remain in the reintegration process.

On top of this, Duque has been trying to back out of key provisions of the agreement, including a veto of a statutory law that governs special tribunals that have been set up to hear the cases of millions of victims of Colombia’s civil war. Additionally, Duque has refused to implement nearly one-third of 578 provisions from the peace deal that has yet to be ratified. This is due to Duque campaigning on his opposition to the FARC peace deal, as he feels that the deal is too lenient on former FARC guerrillas and that it should be “renegotiated.” Under the 2016 deal, FARC militants could avoid jail time for their war crimes if they agreed to lay down their weapons and enter reintegration. In addition, FARC members were allowed to again participate in Colombia’s political process, and the FARC relaunched their political party in August 2017. Duque and his party have voiced strong opposition to these portions of the agreement.  

Duque’s administration has left budgets underfunded for the reintegration camps. The National Reincorporation Council, the body created by the accord to decide on and oversee long-term reintegration activities, has only approved funding for one out of a total of four cooperative business projects for the former guerrillas. Critics also believe that the Duque government is undercutting reforms by not providing relevant reintegration agencies with sufficient funding. In doing this, it is a way for Duque and his government to continue to undercut the Colombian reintegration and peace process.

These decisions, made by a different government from the one in place when the deal was signed, have continued to weaken the foundation of the 2016 deal. If this trend continues, then it could lead to a complete breakdown of the Colombian peace deal. This is a sobering lesson for the Afghan government as it contemplates plans for Taliban reintegration. The Americans should work alongside the Afghan government to guarantee that a future peace deal has mechanisms in place to ensure that it remains fully funded and intact even when the central Afghan government changes leadership. Reduced funding for the reintegration process could damage the morale of ex-Taliban fighters and the foundation of a reintegration process. If ex-Taliban fighters feel that the Afghan government is not doing enough to support them throughout the reintegration process, they could pick up arms once again. This scenario has the best chance of being avoided if there is a consistent, fully funded, and comprehensive peace plan.

More broadly, the Afghan government should offer to ex-Taliban fighters a stable lifestyle with a job and family life. This is especially crucial, because similar to FARC fighters, Taliban militants tend to have poor educational backgrounds, weak family ties, and antisocial personality traits. These traits suggest the risk of former Taliban fighters leaving the reintegration process and rejoining an armed group. By providing a better life for fighters, the Afghan government can satisfy ex-militants’ wishes for jobs and security assistance and offer them something that they did not have previously.

However, even as we draw lessons for Afghanistan from Colombia, it is critical to acknowledge the major differences between the two peace processes and the unique circumstances in Afghanistan, which are not present in Colombia. For example, there are additional major violent non-state actors operating within Afghanistan—arguably more potent and lethal than those in Colombia separate from the FARC—that pose security risks and that will not be a party to a Taliban deal peace. These groups, which include the South Asia branch of ISIS, could well seek to derail the reintegration process by staging attacks in areas where reintegration activities are taking place. Additionally, in a country that is as decentralized politically as Afghanistan, the central government lacks a strong writ beyond Kabul, and this will limit its ability to manage reintegration efforts throughout the entire nation. Finally, as the war effort in Afghanistan has dragged on for years, the world has begun to experience donor fatigue. This will pose a challenge for the Afghan government, which is so heavily dependent on foreign financing, in seeking to ensure full and sustained funding for a reintegration process. Indeed, Afghanistan is significantly poorer and less developed than Colombia.

Still, despite these challenges, and given the stakes for Afghanistan’s future stability and prosperity, it’s worth trying to act on the lessons from Colombia to the extent possible. As peace deals and reintegration efforts are being drawn up for Afghanistan, Colombia provides an excellent case study of successes and failures. Colombia’s model—the use of reintegration camps and the provision of ex-fighters with a better life and opportunities—can help draw Taliban members away from their previous lives and toward a life of nonviolence and stability. The use of reintegration camps can also allow the Afghan government to track and monitor fighters to ensure their peaceful transition back into society. It is essential that these provisions remain in place throughout successive Afghan government administrations because without that guarantee the reintegration effort could easily unravel. Indeed, the ominous developments taking place in Colombia right now offer a cautionary tale.

William Shriver is an Asia Program staff intern at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Michael Kugelman is the Asia Program deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Image: Reuters

Leaked Photos Reveal the U.S. Army Wants a 1,000-Mile Range 'Cannon'

The National Interest - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 17:01

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Americas

But is it affordable or just wishful thinking?

In February 2020, the Army Research Laboratory posted photos on Linkedin of a U.S.-UK event that inadvertently revealed a poster and toy-like plastic models detailing characteristics of a conceptual weapon.

The picture, which the Army took down after they had already been widely disseminated on social media, reveals clues as to a huge artillery system the Army is quietly developing called the Strategic Long Range Cannon (SLRC).

“Platform is comprised of a weapon, prime mover, and trailer, projectile and propelling charge…” It also reads “Range: Beyond 1,000 miles.”

Such a weapon would revive the tradition of the “super gun” designed to hit strategic targets far behind the frontline, starting with the German Paris Gun of World War I, continued with the Nazi V-3 super cannon intended to shell London from France, then the 1950s-era M65 atomic cannon, and seemingly reaching a dead end with the assassination of scientist Gerald Bull, who had been developing Babylon super guns for Saddam Hussein.

Even less extreme long-range tube artillery mostly fell out of fashion following the end of the Cold War. The Army retired its longer-range M107 and M110 self-propelled guns years ago, though North Korea and Russia do maintain some longer-range cannon artillery systems.

But in 2017, the U.S. Army revealed they were studying the development of a Strategic Long Range Cannon that could strike targets up to 1,150 miles away. This was part of a broader modernization drive for the long-neglected artillery branch, as discussed in this earlier article. Then, in October 2019, artillery modernization chief Col. John Rafferty told Defense News in an interview that the Army planned to begin early tests to determine the viability of the weapon at the Naval Support Facility in Dalhgren, Virginia.

The newly revealed miniature has a huge gun on a large trapezoidal mount, doubtlessly to absorb the recoil produced by such a powerful weapon. A prime mover—with a separate wheeled trailer attached on the opposite side of the mount—is used to tow the gun, consistent with an earlier remark that such a weapon would be “moveable” but not “mobile.”

It furthermore details that each complete gun system would be manned by eight personnel, that four guns systems would be grouped together in each battery, and that the guns would be designed for both sea and air transportability.

The degree of transportability is critical, as such an offensive strategic weapon could be highly controversial, meaning it might be politically difficult to deploy strategic guns on foreign soil until just before or at the start of a military crisis.

Why is the Army interested in such weapons given U.S. airpower seems a more traditional solution for such long-range strikes?

The photos show a leaked poster stating the cannon’s purpose is to “Penetrates and dis-integrates enemy anti access/area denial defenses to create windows of opportunity for exploitation by the Joint Force." It goes on that the system would be “…capable of delivering massed fires at strategic ranges for multi-domain operations.”

To cut through the jargon, the cannon’s job is to take out enemy long-range weapon systems that could prevent the Pentagon’s aircraft and ships from operating freely on the frontline. In the aforementioned interview, Rafferty elaborated “…integrated [air/sea defense] systems challenges even our most sophisticated aircraft and challenges our most sophisticated ships to gain access to the area.”

Even stealth jets cannot act with impunity over areas defended by modern integrated air defense systems in week one of a conflict. Ships at sea also are increasingly threatened by long-range land-based anti-ship missiles.

Thus, a long-range cannon could allow the Army to attack deep targets before defenses have been suppressed—and even help knockout radars, weapons batteries and command centers, “kicking open the door” for air and sea power to access the battlespace. 

Such long-range reach—technically exceeding the un-air-refueled combat range of an F-35 stealth fighter—also limits the number of adversary aircraft, missiles, and artillery with adequate reach to launch a counterstrike.

Rafferty’s invocation of “multi-domain operations” is generally associated with the Army finding ways to help the Navy win control of the sea, and hints the weapon could have an application in the Pacific Ocean.

The bit about “massed fires” means that an SLRC battery is meant to make relatively high volume-of-fire attacks—between twelve and twenty projectiles in a single volley, based on the interview with Col. Rafferty. That, in turn, implies each individual shell would likely have to be significantly cheaper than a $1.4 million Tomahawk cruise missiles to affordably sustain a bombardment. In fact, the Army has commented that it envisions a cost of $400,000 to $500,000 per shell.

Based on a statement that the gun would simply use “scaled-up’ existing technology, it’s generally believed the SLRC project will be leveraging proven rocket-assisted projectile technology, though seeking to achieve distances an order of magnitude greater than can presently be achieved. 

However, even though they may initially be propelled from the gun barrel by a powder charge rather than leaping into the sky using their own propulsion systems, shells with the multi-stage rocket boosters likely necessary to attain 1,000-mile plus range arguably begin to resemble cruise missiles, with at least some of the attendant costs.

Furthermore, each projectile would probably require some form of guidance—likely some combination of satellite-navigation, inertial guidance and/or electro-optical/infrared image-matching—to ensure enough accuracy to make the shell worth its price. 

Making effective use of such a weapon would also require the Army deploy reconnaissance assets that can identify targets much deeper in enemy territory than it’s already equipped to do—though presumably, the Air Force might be able to offer some pointers or share assets for that purpose.

Army officials have also indicated in interviews they see the SLRC as an overlapping alternative technology path to a faster, more expensive 1,400-mile-range hypersonic missiles currently under development. In other words, while both systems would have different areas of strength, if one program fails in development, hopefully the other can take on most of its role.

The Army hopes to have a working prototype of the SLRC by 2023. Its performance will determine whether the strategic cannon moves on to become a program of record. The twenty-first century super gun’s viability will hinge not only on whether it can find a way to shoot a projectile out to such a long range, but whether it can do so at a cheap enough price that it compares favorably to existing and near-future alternatives.

Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

Image: Flickr.

Study This Video: Do Russia's Upgraded Tu-22M3M Bombers Post a Real Threat?

The National Interest - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 16:50

Mark Episkopos

Technology, Europe

Here's what they can do.

Key point: Moscow needs to keep its military on the cutting-edge. This means undertaking modernizations for its older bombers such as the Tu-22.

In what is the latest sighting of Russia’s much-anticipated strategic bomber, the official television channel of the Russian Defense Ministry has released footage of the Tu-22M3M in action.

The one-minute clip, posted earlier this week, offers extended takeoff, flight, and landing shots. There was no footage from inside the cockpit, which is perhaps a missed opportunity to corroborate Tupolev’s recurring talking point that the Tu-22M3M boasts 80% new avionics over the original Tu-22M. According to Tupolev’s press office, “The replacement of 80% [of the plane’s] avionics will improve navigation accuracy and level of automation, and streamline its technical maintenance as well as preflight routine.” Notably, the additions will include GLONASS navigation system integration, a digital onboard interface, modernized glass cockpit, and electronic warfare countermeasures (ECM)."

This first appeared in 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

It is unsurprising that the manufacturer is going out of their way to stress the Tu-22M3M’s revamped internal components, given that the bomber’s chassis is otherwise nearly identical to its predecessors. This approach also displayed with the upcoming Tu-160M2 bomber and recently produced A-50U reconnaissance plane, is a core pillar in Russia’s air force modernization strategy: filling tried-and-true Soviet era chassis designs with new technical guts, thereby keeping R&D costs to a minimum and expediting development cycles.

As important as updated avionics are in the age of modern warfare, the centerpiece of the Tu-22M3M upgrade package is the inclusion of up to three new Kh-32 missiles. While classified as anti-ship missiles, the Kh-32 was also developed to also be effective against critical infrastructure targets like bridges and power plants. It is this newfound offensive flexibility that has led defense analyst Dmitry Kornev to describe the Tu-22M3M as “occupying a unique position between strategic and operational-tactical roles,” as opposed to heavier aircraft like the Tu-160 that exist squarely in the heavy strategic bomber camp. The Tu-22M3M, along with its M3 predecessor and MiG-31K, will be among the handful of currently operational Russian aircraft confirmed to be compatible with the nuclear-capable, Mach 10 speed Kh-47 “Kinzhal” missile unveiled at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2018 address to the federal assembly.

Military expert Yuri Knutov noted that the Tu-22M3M is not only a valuable addition to the air component of Russia’s nuclear triad, but the spearhead of a new power projection strategy to counter American to counter carrier strike groups operating in Russia’s sphere of influence: “The VKS [Russian air force] is undergoing an infrastructure update, in which the Tu-22M3M will have a role to play. The bomber will likely be able to land in most terminals, using them take-off points. Particularly important is the opportunity to transfer the Tu-22M3M to Crimea. American destroyers regularly enter the Black Sea. If tensions sharpen, the proliferation of [Tu-22M3M] bombers on the Crimean peninsula will become a nasty surprise for the US Navy.”  Tu-22M3 bombers were frequently sighted in Crimea and the larger Black Sea area over the coming years, but it appears that the Russian air force is now pursuing a more deliberate policy of long-range power projection in that region.

The Russian air force is scheduled to start taking Tu-22M3M deliveries in 2021, while dozens of Tu-22M3’s will be retrofitted with the M3M upgrade package over the coming years.

Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor to The National Interest and serves as research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a PhD student in History at American University. This first appeared in 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Wikimedia.

This Is Why Hitler's Air Force Was Such A Problem For The World War II Allies

The National Interest - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 16:37

Warfare History Network

History, Europe

The strategic air campaign leading up to the invasion was long and bloody.

Key point: By the time the invasion began, American bomber losses had dropped to negligible proportions, and the Luftwaffe had been virtually driven from the skies over its own homeland.

The popular conception of the struggle in the air over northern Europe during World War II is of squadrons of sleek fighters racing over the German heartland to protect contrailed streams of lumbering bombers stretching beyond sight. This is as it was during the second half of America’s air war against Germany, but it was as far from the truth as it is possible to get at the start of that great aerial crusade. It took until late 1943—nearly two years after the United States entered World War II—before the United Kingdom-based Eighth Air Force mounted strategically significant bombing missions against targets in occupied northern Europe. The fault for this lay partly in the availability and slow development of the equipment, but it is also a fact that the two men at the top of the Eighth Air Force command structure stubbornly clung to old and discredited theories that stunted the effectiveness of the strategic-bombing effort and cost thousands of their countrymen their freedom or their lives.

In the beginning, the fighter was a short-legged creature whose role of protecting the bombers was eclipsed by its role of guarding friendly territory and installations. The difference, which is crucial, was the product of technology—range and the power of aircraft engines—and intellect. Until late 1943, surprisingly late in the war, the use of the fighter as an offensive weapon was stunted by the defensive mind-set of the “pursuit” acolytes of the interwar decades.

The pursuit airplane had evolved over the fixed battlefields of Western Europe during World War I. Pursuit aircraft had been developed to prevent enemy reconnaissance airplanes from overflying friendly lines and to protect friendly observation airplanes from enemy pursuits while the observers overflew enemy lines. The pursuit was conceived as a tactical and a defensive weapon, and it was limited to these roles both by conception and by the technologies of the day.

The Army Air Corps

Between the world wars, the development of American pursuit aircraft was hobbled by budgetary restrictions that for many years slowed or obviated altogether the creation of new technologies or even methodical experimentation with new tactics. The U.S. Marine Corps did advance the use of the single-engine pursuit as a nascent close-support weapon to bolster the infantry, but the interests of various intra-Army constituencies prevented similar advances in what had come to be called the Army Air Corps. To the degree that it developed at all, the Air Corps saw increasingly heavy and longer ranged bombers in its future. And, as the limited available research-and-development dollars were expended on speedier bombers, the pursuits of the day were increasingly outranged and outrun.

Inevitably, American bombers of the late 1930s were designed to be “self-defending” because they could fly much farther and at least somewhat faster than could the pursuits of the day. The pursuits, which were being developed at a much slower pace, were relegated to a point-defense role—guarding cities, industrial targets, and air bases. When World War II began, the Air Corps—shortly to be renamed the Army Air Forces—was divided into two distinct combat arms, fighters and bombers. And, by virtue of the fighter’s stunted development, there appeared little chance that the two would spend much time working together.

As soon as the Army Air Corps was pulled into World War II it became focused on the defense of American coastal cities, several Caribbean islands, bases in Greenland and Iceland, and on the strategically indispensable Panama Canal. There were few airplanes of any type to devote to these defensive missions, and those that were deployed defensively also had to serve as on-the-job trainers for hundreds of the raw young pilots emerging from the Air Forces’ burgeoning flight schools.

Through the first half of 1942, all of the very few pilots and airplanes that could be spared from the defense of the U.S. coasts and sea lanes were rushed to defend Australia and the South Pacific. Dozens of precious airplanes and pilots were lost in the pathetic defense of Java, in the Netherlands East Indies, and many more were lost in the early defensive battles around Port Moresby, New Guinea, but Army Air Forces’ training commands were able to catch up with combat and training losses as well as with the heavy burden imposed by the formation of new fighter, bomber, and other-type groups. And better fighters with a higher probability of survival began to reach operational air groups.

Committing to American Air Power

Fortunately, the United States could afford to be a bit late off the mark in her war against Germany. German efforts in 1940 to bring Great Britain to her knees all had failed miserably and, by the end of 1941, the bulk of Germany’s air and land forces were mired in a frightful war of attrition deep inside Russia. The British had the situation in northern Europe reasonably well in hand, though they would have collapsed had not vast infusions of weapons and supplies from the United States sustained them. British forces in Egypt and Libya were teetering on the edge of defeat, but there was little the United States would be able to do for many months to influence the outcome—assuming the British held on that long.

So, while the Army Air Forces devoted the bulk of its limited expendable resources to defensive measures against Japan, new air groups were created, and new and better combat aircraft began rolling off newly created assembly lines. Finally, in the spring of 1942, it was decided in high Army Air Forces’ circles to commit American air power to northern Europe. At first, the commitment would be little more than a meager show of force masking an advanced combat-training program overseen by the Royal Air Force (RAF). Only later, when training bases and factories in the United States had caught up with the planning, would the U.S. Army Air Forces take on a strategic air campaign against the German industrial heartland.

Brigadier General Ira Eaker arrived in England on February 20, 1942 to establish the headquarters of the new VIII Bomber Command. He opened his headquarters at High Wycombe, England on February 23, 1942, but the VIII Bomber Command had no combat airplanes to its name; they would not be available for several months. Rather, it fell to Eaker to argue with his British hosts in favor of an independent role for the forthcoming Army Air Forces in Europe. The RAF and the British government wanted America’s commitment to the air war in Europe to be subordinate to or an adjunct of the British Theatre air war. The Americans, however, felt they deserved an independent role, and it was Eaker’s job to win the British over to this viewpoint.

The American notion was strongly bolstered—in argument, at least—by the fact that the Army Air Forces had developed over many years a theoretical strategic air doctrine that was quite different from the RAF’s experience-based strategic doctrine. The Americans favored and had equipped their bomber force to wage a precision daylight-bombing campaign against industrial targets hundreds of miles inside enemy territory. The RAF was the only other air force in the world that had developed long-range, four-engine, heavy bombers, but its doctrine—the result of bloody experiences early in the war—favored “area” bombing at night. Doctrinal arguments aside, the British victims of the Nazi Blitz of 1940-1941 were less squeamish than their American Allies about bombing German civilians. Besides, the RAF had few long-range heavy bombers to its name, and thus felt it needed to co-opt the promised infusion of American heavies.

For the time being, Eaker’s arguments with the RAF hierarchy were moot. There would be no American air-combat units in the United Kingdom for several months, and then there would not be enough of them to make a dent in Hitler’s Fortress Europa for many more months.

A Symbolic Commitment between Allies

The first VIII Bomber Command unit to arrive in England—on May 10, 1942—was the 97th Heavy Bombardment Group, which was equipped with Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers. This was a symbolic commitment, for the 97th had been activated in February 1942 and thus had not had time to be adequately trained to fly combat missions over heavily defended European targets. It would be months before the 97th saw any live action.

Around the time the 97th Heavy Bombardment Group became the first nominal combat unit to join Eaker’s VIII Bomber Command, Brig. Gen. Frank “Monk” Hunter arrived in England to establish the headquarters of his VIII Fighter Command, also at High Wycombe. Unlike Eaker, Hunter, a rather flamboyant World War I ace, quickly came to terms with British beliefs and aspirations regarding the employment of forthcoming American fighter groups. The RAF had opted for powerful, short-range, point-defense fighters that could defend friendly air bases and attack nearby enemy air bases, and its doctrine appeared to have proven itself during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. Hunter, who had spent most of his career arguing the point-defense case for the U.S. Army’s fighters, was eager to augment the British fighter plan.

On June 10, 1942 personnel of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ 31st Fighter Group arrived in England by ship. After being outfitted with British Spitfire fighters, the green American fighter group was to begin rigorous advanced combat training overseen by a number of the RAF’s leading Battle of Britain aces. As with the 97th Heavy Bombardment Group, the 31st Fighter Group was not expected to begin combat operations for several months.

On June 18, 1942 Maj. Gen. Carl Spaatz arrived in England to establish the headquarters of the Eighth Air Force at High Wycombe. Spaatz was one of the handful of Army Air Forces officers with the moral authority to win an independent role for American air units over the forceful arguments of Britain’s top military and political leaders. Leaving the training of pilots and aircrews to Eaker and Hunter, Spaatz set out on a political path to forge an independent role for American air units. It was Spaatz’s brief from his superiors to integrate and modulate the projected American daylight air offensive with—but not subordinate it to—Britain’s night-bombing effort.

The Army Air Forces’ first combat mission against a German-held target took place on July 4, 1942. Six American-manned RAF-owned Douglas A-20 light attack bombers accompanied six RAF-manned A-20s in an attack on several German airfields in the Netherlands. Two of the American A-20s were downed by flak, seven crewmen were killed and one was captured, two failed to reach the target, and a fifth A-20 was severely damaged. The U.S. Army Air Forces could not have asked for a less auspicious or more humiliating inauguration of what would become the greatest aerial offensive in the history of the world.

The very first U.S. Army Air Forces fighter mission over Occupied Europe took place on July 26, 1942. As part of their training syllabus, six 31st Fighter Group senior pilots joined an RAF fighter sweep to Gravelines, a French town on the English Channel. German fighters challenged the American and RAF Spitfires, and the 31st Fighter Group’s deputy commander was shot down and captured.

31st Fighter Group Joins the RAF for a “Big Show”

The 97th Heavy Bombardment Group had to wait until August 17, when a dozen B-17s, with General Eaker along as an observer, conducted an afternoon raid against railroad marshaling yards near Rouen, France, 35 miles from the English Channel. Escort for the bombers was provided by four RAF Spitfire squadrons. The results of the mission were negligible. One B-17 was damaged by a German fighter, but there were no losses and no injuries.

Two days later, on August 19, the entire 31st Fighter Group joined with the RAF for a “big show” across the Channel, the tragic invasion rehearsal at Dieppe. While completing four 12-plane missions over the beaches during the day, pilots from the 31st were officially awarded two confirmed and two probable air-to-air victories.

The 31st Fighter Group continued to fly fighter-sweep missions over coastal France, but it was awarded only one probable and no confirmed victories before it was withdrawn from combat operations in October to prepare for its upcoming role in the invasion of French Northwest Africa. Meanwhile, on September 12, 1942 the RAF’s three independent Eagle squadrons—fighter units composed entirely of American citizens who had enlisted in the Royal Air Force or Royal Canadian Air Force—were absorbed into the VIII Fighter Command as the new 4th Fighter Group.

Thanks to the withdrawal and diversion of other VIII Fighter Command groups for the North Africa Campaign, the 4th Fighter Group, which was outfitted with Spitfires, was the only operational American fighter unit in northern Europe until May 1943. Already endowed with experienced combat pilots, including a number of aces, from its RAF days, the 4th did about as well during its first six months of combat service as did RAF Spitfire units that took part in similar fighter-sweep missions. Between September 1942 and mid-April 1943, the 4th Fighter Group was awarded credit for 15 confirmed victories over France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

The essence of the U.S. Army Air Forces campaign over northern Europe between October 1942 and the spring of 1943 was that, for practical purposes, there was no air campaign. The diversion of most of the small Eighth Air Force—fighters and bombers—to North Africa left the VIII Bomber Command and the VIII Fighter Command virtually no assets with which to wage any sort of offensive battle.

”The 4th Fighter Group was as Predatory a Fighter Unit as Ever Fought in a War”

From October 1942 until May 1943, only the 4th Fighter Group remained operational in the United Kingdom. The handful of other fighter groups that had reached the British Isles by October 1942 had been diverted or, in the case of the 78th Fighter Group, stripped of its airplanes, which were needed as replacements by groups in North Africa. Between early October 1942 and the end of April 1943, 4th Fighter Group pilots accounted for just 16 German airplanes. (Between mid-March and April 8, the 4th was withdrawn from combat so it could transition from Spitfires to Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. The group’s first aerial victories in the P-47—and the P-47’s first victories, ever—were scored on April 15 over the Belgian coast.)

As was to emerge in time, the paucity of aerial victories—even the paucity of aerial encounters—had less to do with the scarcity of American-manned fighters than it did with American fighter tactics. The 4th Fighter Group was as predatory a fighter unit as ever fought in a war. In better times, with better tactics, it became one of America’s premier fighter units. But during the period it flew as the only American fighter unit in operation in northern Europe—and for several months beyond—it attained negligible results because it was hobbled by idiotic tactics.

The immediate culprit was Maj. Gen. Monk Hunter, the commander of the VIII Fighter Command, but it must be said that Hunter was a product of his training and, to a degree, poor technology. Both of these factors obliged him and his eager fighter pilots—Hunter was eager, too—to work apart, virtually in a separate war, from the Eighth Air Force’s other combat arm, the VIII Bomber Command. Indeed, the doctrines that defined bomber and fighter operations were so far apart as to obviate direct cooperation.

The bombers had been built and the bomber crews had been trained to attack enemy targets without protection from fighters. Even as late as 1942, non-German air strategists honestly believed that wars could be won by bomber campaigns alone. Since the mid-1930s, Americans who accepted this outlook had developed what they called the self-defending bomber. That innovation, however, had more to do with the fighter technology of the 1930s; fighters of the day possessed neither the range nor the speed required to protect modern bombers. Fighter technology improved, but by mid-1942 the concept of the self-defending bomber had taken on a life of its own. It was believed that Germany could be bombed into submission by long-range self-defending bombers that were capable of flying—without fighter escort—to industrial targets anywhere in western or even central Europe. There was no offensive role for fighters.

As with most self-fulfilling prophecies, fact came to match belief. In 1942, American heavy bombers (and their British counterparts) had the range to strike targets in distant Berlin and beyond. The British had attempted daylight raids against Berlin early in the war, but they had been trounced by German fighter and antiaircraft-gun defenses. So they had switched to night “area” raids, nominally against industrial targets but, in reality, against whomever or whatever their bombs happened to strike.

Terror Bombings

The U.S. Army Air Forces, on the other hand, had developed qualms against “terror” bombings. And besides, America’s leading bomber enthusiasts believed strongly in the efficacy of both their precision daylight-bombing doctrine and their self-defending heavy bombers. Moreover, American fighters of the day, though powerful and powerfully armed, still lacked the range to accompany the bombers all the way to the nearest point in Germany and back.

Denied a role in escorting bombers to distant targets, and blinded by an outmoded and actually quite silly doctrine he had helped develop in the 1930s, Monk Hunter opted to send his meager fighter assets on “fighter sweeps” over those areas of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands that were within the meager operational range of the one fighter type that was then in his hands—the immensely heavy (7 ton) and short-ranged Republic P-47 Thunderbolt.

It must be said that it was not Hunter’s fault that he had inadequate airplanes (forget that there was only one group flying!), and he was not alone in his misperception of the role of fighters in World War II. The VIII Fighter Command’s failure to make a dent in the German fighter force—fewer than 20 confirmed victories in seven months—also goes to the role to which the Army Air Forces both aspired and had been relegated by 1942.

The key to every decision Allied commanders made in 1942 and 1943 was the projected invasion of France. At first, when the United States entered the war, it was hoped that the invasion would take place in mid-1943. By the late summer of 1942, however, the North Africa Campaign—and a huge number of other factors—made it clear that D-day was going to be delayed until mid-1944. As the first symbolic raids and sweeps were undertaken over northwestern Europe by Eighth Air Force fighter and bomber units in mid-1942, there were two full years to achieve preinvasion goals from the air. North Africa threw the margin into a cocked hat. If luck held, it would be mid-1943 before the strategic-bombing campaign could be resumed, and then only one year would be left for cracking the vast array of German objectives that would have to be overcome before the invasion could safely commence.

The primary role of American and British air power in Europe from mid-1942 until the invasion was to be the defeat of the Luftwaffe. Operation Pointblank, the specific plan by which the Allies were to accomplish this feat, was promulgated in May 1943 following acceptance of the common goal by the RAF and the U.S. Army Air Forces. The defeat of the Luftwaffe was of primary concern to the Allies because, at heart, it was constituted as a tactical ground-cooperation air force; it had been developed in its entirety to support German Army ground operations. Its bombers, for example, were light or medium models, and its bomber crews were trained to support ground troops at close or medium range. The Luftwaffe had no long-range capability—no strategic capability whatsoever; its role was tactical and, at most, operational. (This is precisely why the Luftwaffe alone was unable to overcome the RAF as a strategic objective during the Blitz; it was too lightly built to undertake a purely strategic mission.) As a superb tactical air force, however, the Luftwaffe was an enormous potential threat to an invasion fleet or a fledgling toehold on the soil of France.

Operation: Pointblank

In order to assure a safe landing by tens of thousands of Allied soldiers from thousands of ships, two things had to happen in the air before the invasion began—or could begin. The Luftwaffe had to be whittled down in strength and it had to be pushed as far back from the English Channel and North Sea coasts as possible. By forcing German tactical and operational air units to operate at the extremity of their ranges and in the smallest possible numbers—and only by doing so—could the mid-1944 invasion foreseen in mid-1942 be reasonably assured of success?

The goal of Operation Pointblank was to be accomplished in two ways: first, by simply shooting down German airplanes wherever they could be induced to fight and, second, by destroying Germany’s ability to build airplanes. To accomplish the latter, the destruction of the German aircraft industry and related targets, the British and Americans opened the Combined Bomber Offensive. The RAF would undertake night “area” bombing attacks against the German aircraft industry and the U.S. Army Air Forces would undertake daylight precision-bombing attacks against the same or similar targets.

Conceptually, the simultaneous Anglo-American program of aggressive (but, alas, short-range) fighter sweeps over the French, Belgian, and Dutch coasts was aimed at engaging the Luftwaffe fighter wings in a battle of attrition that over time would destroy the bulk of whatever reduced numbers of fighters the shattered German aircraft industry managed to produce. Further, by destroying German fighters, the Allies hoped to induce the German aircraft industry to switch over from the production of tactical bombers to the increased production of replacement fighters, which were less likely to hurt the invasion forces.

Sadly, while American fighters were being assiduously avoided by the crack Luftwaffe fighter units within their meager range, the “self-defending” daylight heavy-bomber groups charged with attacking strategic targets deeper inside France, the Netherlands, and northwestern Germany were being butchered. While the German fighters were sidestepping needless and avoidable attrition simply by ignoring the American fighter sweeps, the bombers were locked in a one-sided form of attrition that did not bode well for their survival.

American Fighters Down 7 German Airplanes

Beginning in April 1943, the 4th Fighter Group’s new P-47 Thunderbolts were joined over the Channel and North Sea coasts by the Thunderbolts of the 78th Fighter Group—and another P-47 unit, the 56th Fighter Group, was in training in England. Despite the doubling of assets, the results remained abysmal. Meanwhile, losses of American heavy bombers continued to rise. Major General Ira Eaker, who had replaced Spaatz as Eighth Air Force commander when the latter went to North Africa, continued to champion the self-defending bomber, but he also alibied that there were not yet enough heavies available in northern Europe to make the strategy efficacious. However, in April 1943, after scores and then hundreds of unescorted “self-defending” bombers had fallen and thousands of American airmen had been killed or captured, Eaker finally did ask Monk Hunter to provide fighters for escort duty to the extremity of their range—going into the Continent (penetration), and coming out (withdrawal). The bombers would be on their own a good part of the way, but some protection at the margins apparently was deemed to be better than none at all. From May 4 onward, nearly all VIII Fighter Command sorties were devoted to escorting the bombers.

Seven German airplanes were downed by American fighters over northern Europe in May 1943, and 18 fell in June (seven in one day, June 22). Action during the first three weeks of July was sluggish, but an extremely aggressive new commander, Maj. Gen. Frederick Anderson, had just taken over the VIII Bomber Command on July 1, and he needed some time to make his aggressive new policies bite. On July 24, Anderson’s VIII Bomber Command opened “Blitz Week” with the first of hopefully daily appearances over Germany. Weather shut down bomber operations on one of seven consecutive planned mission days, but the other six days saw strikes aggregating just over a thousand bomber sorties against 15 targets all over northern and western Germany. Claims by bomber gunners were, as always, extravagant—330 victory credits were awarded—but there is no doubting that the German fighter forces were worn down somewhat, at least operationally, by the unrelenting appearances by the bombers.

The American escort fighters put in fewer claims by far, but the fact that their claims were closer to reality made them startling in their own right. In July 1943, American fighter combat produced 38 victory credits, of which 33—nine and 24, respectively—were scored during just two Blitz Week missions. Not coincidentally, the two missions in question were not only bomber-escort missions—they were the first nominally long-range bomber-escort missions ever flown by Eighth Air Force fighters.

On July 28, 1943 the 4th Fighter Group significantly increased the range of its P-47 fighters in an experiment with auxiliary fuel tanks. In so doing, its pilots took the Germans by surprise by flying much deeper into enemy territory than they ever had before. Nine German fighters were downed in what for the Germans was an unexpected melee around the American heavy-bomber stream. Two days later, on July 30, all three P-47 groups were able to use for the first time what the pilots referred to as “bathtub” belly tanks. The 115-gallon tanks—which were designed for use in long-distance ferry flights—were not pressurized, and they gave the pilots a lot of problems, but they did add 150 to 200 miles to each Thunderbolt’s operational range. Until then, the heavy fighter could barely reach Antwerp. With the tanks, the P-47s could make it well into the Netherlands. Thus, on July 30, when the target was the Focke-Wulf assembly plant in Kassel, Germany, more than two hundred VIII Bomber Command B-17s and B-24s took part in a mission that was covered to the greatest depth ever by friendly fighters.

An Incredible 24 Confirmed Victories in 1 Day

On the watershed July 30 mission, the 56th Fighter Group gave the bombers penetration support, the 78th Fighter Group provided early withdrawal support, and the 4th Fighter Group provided late withdrawal support. That meant that the 78th Fighter Group’s P-47s would be with the bombers quite soon after the heavies came off the target. The overall tactical plan was simple—protect the bombers and drive away the German fighters. The surprised German pilots either attempted to ignore the P-47s as they drove their fighters into the bomber stream, or they were sucked into dogfights at the expense of attacking their primary targets, the bombers.

There it was—24 confirmed victories in one day, on a single mission. The tactics and technology had changed, and American fighters had knocked down as many German airplanes in one mission as they had been able to in dozens of fighter-sweep and even escort missions in the preceding two months. In a short time, the large numbers of sturdy, reliable, streamlined, auxiliary fuel tanks that were shipped to or manufactured in England forever changed the tenor of the daytime air war in Europe. Indeed, the routine commitment of American long-range fighter escorts in mid-1943 changed the substance of war in the air as profoundly as the routine use of flimsy reconnaissance aircraft had transformed ground warfare in 1915.

The Germans knew there was no profit in attacking American fighters for the sake of engaging in dogfights that could go either way once they were joined. Fighters, per se, were no danger to the Third Reich. Bombers were. Bombers were a threat to everything—home, loved ones, and German morale and equanimity. American bombers, if they were allowed to get through to their targets, were an especial danger to the Luftwaffe itself, for they had shown a propensity to concentrate on the German industries from which German fighters and bombers emerged—ball bearings, machine tools, and airplane factories themselves. German fighters would never attack American or British fighters unless there was an overwhelming opportunity to win. But bombers had to be attacked, no matter where or when they appeared over Germany or her satellites. And, so, if the American fighter enthusiasts wanted to destroy the Luftwaffe at least in part through a strategy of attrition, they had to tie their fortunes to those of the bombers. To do that, better or much-improved fighters needed to emerge from the American industrial behemoth, better escort tactics needed to evolve, and better operational ranges needed to be achieved by the fighters.

The VIII Fighter Command’s three P-47 groups were credited with 58 German airplanes in August 1943, all of them during bomber-escort duty. In stark contrast, the American P-47s flew 373 fighter-sweep sorties over France on August 15 and did not see a single German airplane. Despite the numbers and mounting pressure from his superiors in Washington to adopt changes, Hunter continued to argue vehemently in favor of his discredited fighter-sweep tactic. In this, Hunter continued to be supported by the Eighth Air Force commander, Eaker, who remained a strong supporter in his own right of the self-defending bomber.

The ‘Aggressive’ William Kepner

Eaker was very close personally to the Army Air Forces chief, General Henry “Hap” Arnold, so his job was secure. But, though Hunter was also an old friend of Arnold’s, he had become an annoying relic. Hunter was replaced as head of the VIII Fighter Command on August 29 by Maj. Gen. William Kepner. A fighter pilot’s fighter pilot, Kepner was, in a word, aggressive. Moreover, his outlook was in full accord with the reality of the air war over northern Europe. He simply wanted to do whatever worked.

The VIII Fighter Command’s tally continued to rise, but the early escort tactic—stay with the bombers—quickly became ossified. Eaker eventually became an escort advocate, but next he refused the counsel of his escort commanders. As the range of their airplanes increased—especially after the introduction of the long-range Lockheed P-38 Lightning in late 1943 and the development of the North American P-51 Mustang—the fighter men thought they should range ahead of the bombers to break up Luftwaffe fighter formations before the bombers were molested—in other words, to go over to the offensive. Eaker, however, gave in to the wishes of his seriously demoralized bomber men, who wanted to see their escorts close up—an effective but nonetheless defensive mind-set. As a result, the fighters remained only marginally effective, and bombers and their crews continued to fall in record numbers.

At length, despite Eaker’s obstructionism, the Eighth Air Force forced the Luftwaffe to abandon its forward bases and defend the German heartland. This fit the preinvasion plan—move the German fighters far back from the invasion beaches—but the highly concentrated German defensive fighter effort (heavily augmented by improved antiaircraft protection) downed yet a higher percentage of bombers even while providing more fruitful hunting for the American fighters. The deadly spiral persisted until, at last, Eaker was replaced on January 6, 1944 by Maj. Gen. James Doolittle, who was brought in from the Mediterranean.

Doolittle and the new theater air commander, the redoubtable Carl Spaatz, immediately gave the Eighth Air Force fighters their offensive head. Thereafter, aggressive roving (“freelancing”) American fighters often dispersed the German fighters before the American bombers arrived on the scene. It was Bill Kepner and Fred Anderson, working together under Doolittle and Spaatz, who finally broke the back of the German fighter force, the one by shooting it down over Germany and the other by making a shambles of the German industrial base, especially the aircraft industry.

American Air Supremacy

The strategic air campaign leading up to the invasion was long and bloody. In the end, there was only one fair way to measure the success of Operation Pointblank and its many related phases and strategies: How much opposition was the Luftwaffe able to muster over the beaches and invasion fleet when Normandy was invaded on D-day, June 6, 1944?

On D-day itself two German fighters appeared over the invasion beaches. Two. No German fighters rose to challenge the hundreds of fighter-escorted transport aircraft that dropped three airborne divisions behind the Normandy beaches, and no German fighters or bombers—not one—attacked the invasion armada or landing force. On June 6, 26 German airplanes—fighters and light bombers—were destroyed over France by U.S. Army Air Forces fighters, but none of these came within sight of the Normandy coast. The Luftwaffe never meaningfully contested the invasion or any of the subsequent Allied land campaigns in Europe. By the time the invasion began, American bomber losses had dropped to negligible proportions, and the Luftwaffe had been virtually driven from the skies over its own homeland.

From mid-1944, thanks to the introduction of better fighters and the use of aggressive, realistic offensive fighter doctrines, American airmen attained—not the air superiority they sought, but—total air supremacy over the whole of western Europe.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network. Originally Published April 16, 2019.

Image: Wikipedia.

Une symétrie beaucoup plus formelle que réelle

Le Monde Diplomatique - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 16:25
La théorie de la convergence des systèmes socialiste et capitaliste, dans le domaine économique, a fait l'objet d'un nombre considérable d'études. Une analyse bibliographique réalisée en Allemagne fédérale (1971), par les soins du service d'études économiques du Bundestag, a recensé cent cinquante-huit (...) / , , , , , , , - 1975/08